How the Collective Unconscious Is Tied to Dreams, Beliefs, and Phobias (2022)

What Is the Collective Conscious?

Sometimes referred to as the "objective psyche," the collective conscious refers to the idea that a segment of the deepest unconscious mind is genetically inherited and not shaped by personal experience. This notion was originally defined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung.

According to Jung's teachings, the collective unconscious is common to all human beings. Jung also believed that the collective unconscious is responsible for a number of deep-seated beliefs and instincts, such as spirituality, sexual behavior, and life and death instincts.

What Is the Unconscious (and Why Is It Like an Iceberg)?

History of the Collective Unconscious

Born in Switzerland in 1875, Carl Jung founded the school of analytical psychology. He is responsible for proposing and developing the psychological concepts of the collective unconscious, along with introverted and extroverted personalities.

Jung worked with Sigmund Freud, another prominent psychologist during that time. In his early studies, Jung's work affirmed many of Freud's ideas. But as time went on, the two eventually split in their principles of psychology—including their thoughts about the development of the unconscious mind.

The biggest difference between their explanations of the unconscious mind is that Freud believed that it was the product of personal experiences, while Jung believed that the unconscious was inherited from the past collective experience of humanity.

According to Jung, the collective unconscious is made up of a collection of knowledge and imagery that every person is born with and is shared by all human beings due to ancestralexperience. Though humans may not know what thoughts and images are in their collective unconscious, it is thought that in moments of crisis, the psyche can tap into it.

Key Concepts of the Collective Unconscious

Understanding Jung's beliefs of the collective unconscious also require understanding the concepts surrounding these beliefs.

Archetypes

Jung believed that the collective unconscious is expressed through universal archetypes. Archetypes are signs, symbols, or patterns of thinking and/or behaving that are inherited from our ancestors.

According to Jung, these mythological images or cultural symbols are not static or fixed. Instead, many different archetypes may overlap or combine at any given time.Some common archetypes that Jung proposed for explaining the unconscious mind include:

  • Anima: Symbolized by an idealized woman who compels man to engage in feminine behaviors
  • Animus: Woman's source of meaning and power that both creates animosity toward man but also increases self-knowledge
  • Hero: Starting with a humble birth, then overcoming evil and death
  • Persona: The mask we use to conceal our inner selves to the outside world
  • Self: The whole personality; the core of the total psyche
  • Shadow: The psyche's immoral and dark aspects
  • Trickster: The child seeking self-gratification, sometimes being cruel and unfeeling in the process
  • Wise old man: The self as a figure of wisdom or knowledge

In his book "Four Archetypes," Jung shared the archetypes he considered to be fundamental to a person's psychological makeup: mother, rebirth, spirit, and trickster.

Complex Beliefs

Jung was convinced that the similarity and universality of world religions pointed to religion as a manifestation of the collective unconscious.Thus, deep-seated beliefs regarding spirituality are explained as partially due to the genetically-inherited unconscious.

(Video) Carl Gustav Jung Archetypes And The Collective Unconscious

Similarly, morals, ethics, and concepts of fairness or right and wrong could be explained in the same way, with the collective unconscious as partially responsible.

Phobias

Jung used his theory of the collective unconscious to explain how fears and social phobias can manifest in children and adults for no apparent reason. Fear of the dark, loud sounds, bridges, or blood may all be rooted in this collective unconscious due to an inherited genetic trait.

In support of this, research indicates that some children are afraid of the dark not because of a negative experience they've had during the nighttime, but because darkness activates an exaggerated response by the amygdala—the part of the brain associated with the processing of emotions—resulting in the development of an innate or unprovoked fear.

The Genetics of Phobias

Dreams

Dreams were thought to provide key insight into the collective unconscious. Jung believed that due to the archetypes represented, specific symbols in dreams are universal. In other words, the same symbols mean similar things to different people.

At the same time, Jung believed that dreams are highly personal and that dream interpretation requires knowing a great deal about the individual dreamer. Freud, on the other hand, often suggested that specific symbols represent specific unconscious thoughts.

More than just being repressed wishes, Jung felt that dreams compensate for parts of the psyche that are underdeveloped in our waking lives. This has allowed for the study of dreams as an instrument for research, diagnosis, and treatment for psychological conditions and phobias.

Interpretation of the Collective Unconscious

Historically, there has been some debate around whether the collective unconscious requires a literal or symbolic interpretation.

In scientific circles, a literal interpretation of the collective unconscious is thought to be a pseudoscientific theory. This is because it is difficult to scientifically prove that images of mythology and other cultural symbols are inherited and present at birth.

Conversely, a symbolic interpretation of the collective unconscious is thought to have some scientific grounding because of the belief that all humans share certain behavioral dispositions.

What Is Jungian Therapy?

Ongoing Research on the Collective Unconscious

Researchers are continuously trying to increase their understanding of the collective unconscious. For instance, a 2015 study suggests that the gut microbiome may play a role in how the unconscious regulates behavior. If so, studies of gut microbes could be a part of the future of psychiatric research.

(Video) Dr. Brian Weiss on the Patient Who Made Him Believe in Past Lives | The Oprah Winfrey Show | OWN

Another example is a 2022 study published in Digital Geography and Society that investigates the role that the collective unconscious may play in our thoughts and behaviors while interacting on social media platforms. Thus, Jung's ideas continue to be assessed to better understand the collective unconscious and how it works.

Jung's Theory of Personality and Learning Styles

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10 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. American Psychological Association. Collective unconscious.

  2. Britannica. Carl Jung: Swiss psychologist.

  3. Carducci B. Carl Jung. Wiley Encylop Personal Indiv Diff: Models Theor. 2020. doi:10.1002/9781119547143.ch13

  4. Allen C. The balance of personality.

  5. Jung C. Four archetypes.

  6. Garcia R. Neurobiology of fear and specific phobias. Learn Mem. 2017;24(9):462-471. doi:10.1101/lm.044115.116

  7. Roesler C. Jungian theory of dreaming and contemporary dream research — findings from the research project 'Structural Dream Analysis'. J Analytic Psychol. 2020;65(1):44-62. doi:10.1111/1468-5922.12566

    (Video) Consciousness and Jung- How Western Psychology & Eastern Philosophies Merge

  8. Mills J. Jung as philosopher: Archetypes, the psychoid factor, and the question of the supernatural. Int J Jungian Studies. 2014;6(3):227-242. doi:10.1080/19409052.2014.921226

  9. Dinan TG, Stilling RM, Stanton C, Cryan JF. Collective unconscious: How gut microbes shape human behavior. J Psychiatr Res. 2015;63:1-9. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.02.021

  10. Dabos P. The exclusion of others on Facebook: The technological unconscious, the orientalist unconscious, and the European migrant crisis. Digital Geography Soc. 2022;3:100033. doi:10.1016/j.diggeo.2022.100033

Additional Reading

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FAQs

How is the collective unconscious connected? ›

4 Ways to Tap Into the Collective Unconscious for Inspiration
  1. Carl Jung defined the collective unconscious, sometimes called the objective psyche. ...
  2. The Theory.
  3. The Example.
  4. Phobias. ...
  5. We can become aware of higher knowledge. ...
  6. Use meditation.
  7. Letting go of the need for inspiration.
  8. Listen to your dreams.
Dec 17, 2019

Are dreams part of the collective unconscious? ›

Dreams. Dreams were thought to provide key insight into the collective unconscious. Jung believed that due to the archetypes represented, specific symbols in dreams are universal. In other words, the same symbols mean similar things to different people.

How does collective unconscious relate to psychology? ›

collective unconscious, term introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung to represent a form of the unconscious (that part of the mind containing memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain.

How does the collective unconscious influence behavior? ›

The influence of the collective unconscious

The collective unconscious also allows us to make quick decisions, often without knowing where they came from in the first place. The collective unconscious governs intuition and reflex, among other important functions.

What are examples of collective consciousness? ›

Examples of Collective Consciousness

Rituals, such as parades for holidays and weddings. Spectators standing before a sporting event to hear a national anthem such as “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the United States which reinforces patriotism and solidarity.

What does Carl Jung say about dreams? ›

Jung saw dreams as the psyche's attempt to communicate important things to the individual, and he valued them highly, perhaps above all else, as a way of knowing what was really going on. Dreams are also an important part of the development of the personality – a process that he called individuation.

What is an example of collective unconscious in psychology? ›

For example, if we dream of an old man talking to us, we can decide it is a sign we are on the right track in life and approaching our personal inner wisdom. The collective unconscious is also a way to feel connected, instead of separated, from others in the world.

Who believed the unconscious rises to the surface through dreams? ›

Freud believed that many of our feelings, desires, and emotions are repressed or held out of awareness because they are simply too threatening. Freud believed that sometimes these hidden desires and wishes make themselves known through dreams and slips of the tongue (aka "Freudian slips").

Which dream theory states that dreams serve no purpose at all that our brain is just trying to make sense of random impulses? ›

One prominent neurobiological theory of dreaming is the activation-synthesis theory, which states that dreams don't actually mean anything. They are merely electrical brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories.

What perspective focuses on the unconscious? ›

Originating in the work of Sigmund Freud, the psychodynamic perspective emphasizes unconscious psychological processes (for example, wishes and fears of which we're not fully aware), and contends that childhood experiences are crucial in shaping adult personality.

What is the collective unconscious and who is responsible for developing it? ›

Freud's disciple, Jung, introduced the concept of the collective unconscious, that is, a storehouse of memories inherited from a person's ancestral past.

What is the primary connection between the collective unconscious and myth for Jung? ›

Jung believed that myths and dreams were expressions of the collective unconscious, in that they express core ideas that are part of the human species as a whole. In other words, myths express wisdom that has been encoded in all humans, perhaps by means of evolution or through some spiritual process.

How is collective consciousness formed? ›

According to Durkheim, the collective consciousness is formed through social interactions. In particular, Durkheim thought of the close-knit interactions between families and small communities, groups of people who share a common religion, who may eat together, work together, and spend leisure time together.

Where does collective consciousness come from? ›

The collective consciousness, or conscience collective as he wrote it in French, is the source of this solidarity. Durkheim first introduced his theory of the collective consciousness in his 1893 book "The Division of Labor in Society".

What is the concept of collective consciousness? ›

The term collective consciousness refers to the condition of the subject within the whole of society, and how any given individual comes to view herself as a part of any given group.

What is the main concept of Carl Jung? ›

Q: What is Carl Jung's theory? Carl Jung's theory is the collective unconscious. He believed that human beings are connected to each other and their ancestors through a shared set of experiences. We use this collective consciousness to give meaning to the world.

What did Freud believe about dreams? ›

Freud said that, "The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind." He meant that because dreams are such an unconscious activity they give an almost direct insight into the workings of the unconscious mind.

What is the basic idea of the problem solving theory of dreams? ›

Dreams as Problem-Solving

Dreams reflect emotional preoccupations of waking life—relationships, sex, work, health. Images in a dream are sometimes symbols for things in everyday life. This theory agrees with Freud that dreams contain symbols, but there is no “latent” (unconscious) meaning.

How did Freud and Jung differ in what they believed about dreams? ›

Ultimately, Freud believed it was in the hands of the dreamer to interpret the meaning of their dreams. In relation to Freud, Jung believed that dreams are a representation of the unconscious mind. Jung did not agree that everything presented in a dream related to a repressed sexual desire.

Which theory holds that dreaming is when the unconscious part of the brain is busy processing procedural memories? ›

The underlying assumption of continual-activation theory is that, during REM sleep, the unconscious part of the brain is busy processing procedural memory. Meanwhile, the level of activation in the conscious part of the brain descends to a very low level as the inputs from the senses are basically disconnected.

Why is the unconscious mind important? ›

According to Freud (1915), the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see. Our feelings, motives and decisions are actually powerfully influenced by our past experiences, and stored in the unconscious.

Why do you think understanding the unconscious mind is important in analyzing your personality? ›

Freud said that, in essence, was the part of our minds that tried to maintain a normal life. This is why the unconscious mind and the ego are often at odds with each other. A better understanding your unconscious mind can arguably give you the tools for living a more effective life.

What theories have been proposed to explain why we dream? ›

Dreams May Reflect the Unconscious

Sigmund Freud's theory of dreams suggests that dreams represent unconscious desires, thoughts, wish fulfillment, and motivations. 4 According to Freud, people are driven by repressed and unconscious longings, such as aggressive and sexual instincts.

Why dreams are so important to Freud's theory of psychoanalysis? ›

Freud believed dreams represented a disguised fulfilment of a repressed wish. He believed that studying dreams provided the easiest road to understanding of the unconscious activities of the mind.

What are some of the theories that attempt to describe what dreams actually are? ›

Freud presented the theories of manifest content and latent content. According to his research, dreams actually contain messages that are generally hidden from the conscious awareness but represent unconscious conflicts within the mind of the dreamer.

What does unconscious mean in psychology? ›

unconscious, also called Subconscious, the complex of mental activities within an individual that proceed without his awareness. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, stated that such unconscious processes may affect a person's behaviour even though he cannot report on them.

What is unconscious mind examples? ›

Psychologists believe that the unconscious mind stores all the memories and experiences that are not being consciously thought about. Some of these memories are easy to recall. For example, you can probably remember what you had for dinner last night. Can you remember what you did on your last birthday?

What is unconscious conflict in psychology? ›

In psychoanalysis, the analyst attempts to bring repressed unconscious conflicts to the patient's awareness. In other words, by providing patients an understanding ('insight') of the unconscious aspects of their problems, patients have the opportunity to work them through and subsequently master these difficulties.

What is the primary connection between the collective unconscious and myth for Jung? ›

Jung believed that myths and dreams were expressions of the collective unconscious, in that they express core ideas that are part of the human species as a whole. In other words, myths express wisdom that has been encoded in all humans, perhaps by means of evolution or through some spiritual process.

Did Freud believe in the collective unconscious? ›

He also believed in the Freudian concept that many forms of neurosis were the result of the conflicts between the conscious and the unconscious. But he held that Freud had failed to take into account what he called the 'collective consciousness' as an expansion of the id.

What is the collective unconscious quizlet? ›

Collective unconscious. A "ware house" of ancestral memories from our past as a group and made up by archetypes.

How does Jung divide a work of art? ›

Jung divides the work of art into two categories: The psychological and the visionary. Psychological art “deals with materials drawn from the realm of human consciousness” (220). It represents those things that are experienced and understood by the human psyche.

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